Former History Room Manager Peter Goodwin shows off the recorded town history series lectures kept in the History Room. (Nathan Strout / The Times Record)

BATH — This month, the Sagadahoc History and Genealogy Room at the Patten Free Library will launch its 15th annual Town History Series. The series of lectures covers any aspect of the history of the five towns the library serves — Bath, West Bath, Woolwich, Arrowsic and Georgetown.

Despite the ostensibly dry subject matter, the talks have generally drawn an average of 75 people — and often more than 100 — to sit together for an hour to learn about their communities’ history.

Over the past 15 years, the Town History Series has largely been the work of one man — Peter Goodwin.

In 2002,  Goodwin was named manager of the History Room. Goodwin was himself a student of history, though the history he was interested in was a good bit older than the genealogies and records collected in the History Room. Goodwin was a geologist, and in his career he studied rock formations that long predated the settling of Sagadahoc County.

“It took me over a year just to get used to the things in the room and learn how to run the microfilm machine,” said Goodwin.

As he settled into his new role, one of his colleagues pushed him to launch some sort of lecture series covering local history. Over the first few years in the new role, Goodwin began developing his idea of bringing in speakers to touch on local history. By 2004, he had formulated his plan for an annual lecture series that would cover some aspect of the communities that contribute financially to the Patten Free Library.

The Patten Free Library has always had a more regional outlook. Despite being located in Bath, the library serves several nearby communities, including West Bath, Woolwich and Georgetown.

“That even goes to the name of the room: The Sagadahoc History and Genealogy Room, not the Bath History and Genealogy Room,” said Goodwin. “For the local towns, we either are or have been (their library).”

From the beginning, Goodwin leaned heavily on local historical societies to come up with topic ideas and presenters for the series. There is no overarching theme for the series each year. Each town is challenged to come up with its own lecture each year.

In that first year, 2005, the series represented the breadth of historical interests residents had. For Bath, Roy Lawrence discussed “Downtown Bath in the 1950s and 1960s.” Ada Haggett of Phippsburg chose to talk about “Phippsburg’s One-Room Schoolhouses: 1814-1958.” Perhaps the most broad entry was Bud Reed’s, whose topic was simply “Early Woolwich History.”

At least one colleague cautioned Goodwin not to count on the series being an annual event. After all, how many people would come out on a Saturday morning to listen to a lecture on the history of one-room schoolhouses or the cemeteries of Georgetown? Turns out a lot of people. That first lecture drew about 60 people — Goodwin had hoped for maybe 20. The lecture was quickly moved from the small History Room to the Community Room to accommodate the crowd. Every year since, the lectures have continued to draw an average of 75 people and continue to be the History Room’s biggest regular event, sometimes with audiences of more than 100.

The library has been recording the lectures since 2007 and they’re all available for visitors to watch.

This 15th anniversary series also represents a first for the series: This will be the first year with no presentation on Arrowsic history. That’s not because they’ve run out of interesting things to talk about in Arrowsic. The smallest community of the bunch with only about 400 residents, Arrowsic does not have a historical society. In the first year of the town history series, Goodwin stepped in to give the Arrowsic lecture. Since then they have always been able to find a volunteer to cover the lecture, but this year Goodwin and his Arrowsic contacts came up shirt.

For Goodwin, that represents the threat that the town history series faces. While they’re not even close to mining the depths of the communities’ respective histories, the series is entirely dependent on people stepping up and devoting time to it. If no one comes forward to give a lecture, the series will die, according to Goodwin.

“There’s no shortage of history in all these towns, but there is sometimes a shortage of people with a particular interest or time or inclination to give a talk,” said Goodwin.

That goes double for Goodwin, who is nearing retirement. Goodwin has been the point person for the entire 15 year run of the town history series. When he’s eventually forced to step back, will there be someone else willing to take on the responsibility and keep the series going? Goodwin remains hopeful that more people will step up given the popularity of the series, but there’s no guarantee.

Part of the reason Goodwin is hopeful is that the series has taken on a life of its own as a winter institution in the Midcoast. The lectures are more than just a talk on history, they’re a chance for the far-flung residents of the Greater Bath area to come together and socialize.

“The towns themselves use this event for people that don’t get to see each other every day or even every week or month. They all congregate, because of the socializing that goes on in the room before we have to tell them to turn off their cell phones,” said Goodwin. “There’s been a core of people who’ve come every year for the whole 15 years. They see it as a historical interesting talk, but they also see it as a social event.”

All four lectures will take place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., and doors will open at 10 a.m.

Jan. 19 — WOOLWICH: Nathan Lipfert, “Woolwich Shipbuilding and Shipyards”

Feb. 2 –BATH: Brenda Cummings and Tim Richter, “Bath’s Long Lost Cemeteries”

Feb. 9 — GEORGETOWN: Darice Birge, “Life and Liberty in Their Souls: Georgetown’s Freewill Baptists, 1800-1840”

Feb. 16 — WEST BATH: Avery Hunt, “Inns and Eats in West Bath, Then and Now”